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I was really disappointed with this book. I kept waiting for something awesome to happen, but it was plodding and dull. There’s something missing that takes it from faux history to magic. After devouring Alice Hoffman’s recent ‘Practical Magic’ prequel, I was hoping to get pulled into another magical matriarchy. It’s a great idea but the execution is lackluster.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
I have never been so infuriated by a book.
The writing is gorgeous, evocative, and made the locations of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales come alive. The combination of these Celtic locations, combined with the story of hereditary witches, was impossibly seductive. Sadly, the reality did not stand up to the concept.
First of all, the title is totally misleading. This is not a Secret History of Witches. It is not a secret history of anything. The book lacks both history and magic. The sprinklings of witchcraft throughout are sparse and decidedly non-magical.
Also, there are major plot problems with this multi-generational story. We are repeatedly told that the craft will die out if there are no female children to pass it on to, but once a female child is born, they are left totally in the dark and told nothing about their heritage. In one episode of the story, we are supposed to believe that a smart, savvy teenage girl who has been raised by SIX women, all practitioners of witchcraft, and who is herself the last hope of the legacy, has absolutely no idea that this is happening in her family. It comes as a total shock to her when this is revealed on her birthday. And then she is a skeptic who is abusive to all six of her female caretakers, particularly her mother. Seriously. It is one of the many times when I almost gave up on this book (and should have).
But the biggest flaw is how utterly unlikeable some of these women are. I thought the young Ursule was the most terrible female character I had encountered in a long time - until I met her daughter Irene, who wins for Most Odious Female Character.
It is sad to me that an author can take such a beautiful concept as hereditary magic that exists in these ancient cultures and turn it into a mundane tool for the shallow and self serving.
I stayed with it against my better judgment because I wanted to see where it went, and for a few minutes near the end I really thought it might redeem itself. There is a nice twist during WWII that I wish had been a larger focus of the book. But the ending was a terrible wimper, a fizzle of an already dying ember. And so very un-magical.
I am sorry I wasted so much time on this story. And yet... she writes beautifully. Thus the frustration. It is a strange, literary conundrum.
On a high note, the narration is fantastic and I will look for other books performed by Polly Lee (who speaks lovely French). I do wish someone had told her how to pronounce Samhain, because the Irish in me cringed each time she said "Sam-Hane" but it wasn't her fault.
Listen to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic instead.
33 of 35 people found this review helpful